Despite their oval racing stereotype, the United States have plenty of excellent road courses as well. One of them, however, is lost forever – luckily, there is a version of Riverside for Assetto Corsa.
The Indianapolis 500 and the Daytona 500 are likely the most famous US-based races. Both of them are on superspeedways, and even though the latter’s road course is famous in its own right with the 24 Hours of Daytona, it is not what made the venue famous. However, exciting road courses are everywhere within the country. And that is not just since the opening of COTA in 2012, as Riverside for Assetto Corsa shows.
Riverside: One Of The Great US Road Circuits
Racing fans and sim racers around the world cherish venues like Road America, Road Atlanta, Laguna Seca or Mid-Ohio, just to name a few. Winding the clock back over 30 years, though, another entry would be on the list of many – Riverside in California.
Situated about four hours of a drive east of Los Angeles in the Moreno Valley area, the track opened in 1957 after construction began that same year. It soon became a hub for road racing on the West Coast, even hosting the 1960 Formula One United States Grand Prix. Stirling Moss took victory ahead of Innes Ireland and Bruce McLaren – the only drivers to be on the lead lap by the end of the race.
By that time, the track had already seen two fatalities. John Lawrence lost his life in the opening event in 1957, and earlier in 1960, Pedro van Dory succumbed to injuries sustained in a sports car crash. Until 1968, 11 (!) more drivers died at Riverside. Ken Miles had died at Turn 9 in 1966 while testing for the Ford factory team. IndyCar legend AJ Foyt barely survived a brake failure going into the turn. Clearly, something had to be done.
Faster, But Safer
For the 1969 season, the relatively slow 180-degree final turn was made faster. What sounds counterintuitive actually improved safety somewhat, as the preceding straight that went mostly downhill was shortened. A slight left kink led away from the former straight, opening up the banked Turn 9. This gave the track a more high-speed character, and its long configuration remained like this until 1988.
The changes did not elimiate fatalities, but significantly reduced them. Compared to 11 deaths in as many years before, only eight more drivers passed away following incidents at Riverside in the following 20 years. The bumpy track remained a challenge and saw its share of hair-raising incidents. CART ace Dick Simon famously rolled his car on the back straight after a tire failure. Simon narrowly missed marshals and spectators, and luckily emerged from the wreck unharmed.
Both IMSA and IndyCar/CART raced at Riverside, Can-Am and Trans-Am also visited, among several other series. Until 1988, the circuit was an integral part of the NASCAR calendar as well, hosting as many as three rounds (in 1981) per year. The premier US stock car racing series used a shortened version, bypassing the Turn 7 infield.
No Future For Riverside
By that point, the writing had been on the wall already. As the Moreno Valley kept expanding, residential areas moved closer to the track. Coupled with protests by environmentalists and the increasing value of the land, it was clear that the circuit would have no future.
Professional racing ceased after the 1988 season. For 1989, most of the backstretch had to be bypassed as construction on the site had already begun. After that season, Riverside closed its doors for good. Today, a shopping mall and a residential area sit where one of the great US road circuits used to be. Since 2003, there are no remains of the track anymore.
Riverside For Assetto Corsa: 1988 Throwback
Luckily, as with many such cases, sim racing preserves a legendary circuit. Already in 2016, RaceDepartment member LilSki released Riverside for Assetto Corsa. And even though its last update dates back to 2017, the circuit still holds up well in 2023. Not to mention that it is enormous amounts of fun.
LilSki’s version portrays the track as it was at its final NASCAR race in 1988. In Kunos Simulazioni’s stock Porsche 962C (which is not the IMSA version, but extremely close), the esses of the first sector at Riverside for Assetto Corsa are insanely quick, leading into a trick braking zone for Turn 6. After that, it is all about conquering the low-grip, bumpy infield including Turn 7 and the even trickier braking zone into Turn 8.
Riverside For Assetto Corsa: Bumpy, But Flowing
Blasting down the back straight and through the dogleg into Turn 9 are nothing short of excellent as well. Older cars with less downforce fit the track very well, too. Its flow, bumpy nature and eleveation changes lend themselves well to these vehicles.
With a few modernizations, mostly a repave, it is not hard to imagine NASCAR, IMSA and IndyCar still racing there if Riverside was still around today. It is an enormous shame that it is not.
For another track that is no longer around but preserved in Assetto Corsa, be sure to check out our recent article on Crystal Palace in London.
Have you tried Riverside for Assetto Corsa already? Let us know your thoughts on the track on Twitter @OverTake_gg or in the comments below!